Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Review The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The surprise announcement of a Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, took the young adult book world by storm. I picked it as one of my most anticipated books of 2020. Set 64 years before Katniss volunteers as tribute, Suzanne Collins shows us the beginning of Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power.

From the publisher:

AMBITION WILL FUEL HIM.

COMPETITION WILL DRIVE HIM.

BUT POWER HAS ITS PRICE.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

I was initially disappointed when I heard The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes would be an origin story for the trilogy’s evil President Snow. One of the problems with prequels is that we know how the character turns out. It removes much of the suspense. I also didn’t think I’d be able to care enough for a teenaged Coriolanus Snow as the protagonist. I would have rather had a story featuring Haymitch’s experience in the Hunger Games, I thought.

By pitting Snow against his Academy teachers and administrators, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes manages to make him a (somewhat) sympathetic character. His family is struggling financially following the war which left him without a father. The relationship he builds with his assigned Tribute reveals a different, softer side of Snow. At the same time, he’s never quite sure who he can trust, and he’s calculated in his friendships with his classmates, which seems like an early indication of the Snow he will become.

Beyond the rich characters in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s very interesting to see the differences between the nascent Hunger Games and the original trilogy’s Games. Gone are the elaborate high-tech arenas full of varied flora and fauna. Only at Snow’s suggestion on the eve of the tenth Hunger Games are the concepts of betting odds and gifting food and water to tributes implemented. These games barely resemble what they will become.

I really enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Although Collins apparently has no plans for a sequel, the original creative team behind the Hunger Games movies is already at work on the big screen adaptation.

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